There have been Pride festivals in other parts of New Zealand for decades, but Tauranga is preparing for only its second annual Pride event.

And because of Tauranga's more conservative population, that will be a picnic rather than a parade.

"We have more 'plus 65s' than anywhere in the country," said mayor Tenby Powell. "And there are strong views in Tauranga, around a range of things, and I think part of the opportunity here is to open the thinking up and have an understanding that people here, the gay community, are part of who we are as well, part of our wider society.

"We need to, if not embrace, at least understand that without the prejudices that go with it."

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The first Tauranga Moana Pride Picnic, held on a Saturday in March this year, was a great success, despite some schools asking their students not to attend.

"About two years before we started to organise this, there was a mass killing in South America," organiser Helen Alice said.

"Someone went into a gay bar and shot up the gay bar. And a young student at Katikati High School, within a week had organised a gay pride walk here. There were a lot of people.

"As we were walking and talking, it was clear there's a lot of LGBTQI people in this community but they're not connected up with each other. They're not feeling that they can be visible in this community and the idea grew from that really."

The Pride movement wasn't created to celebrate being gay, instead its purpose is to create awareness of the right to exist without persecution.

"It's an event that celebrates who they are, where they can be who they are comfortably and freely and also where they can see the city reflecting back to them a gay-friendly environment," Alice said.

Powell says he's proud to back the event, which will be held next March.

"A lot of what I represent, and what I represented during my campaign for mayor was bringing Tauranga together in a more inclusive way. Kotahitanga - the togetherness, is very important. The Pride Picnic in many respects highlights the need for us all to come together so I'm delighted to be here."

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Bailey Hocking, 16, attended last year's event and says it serves an important purpose in the community.

"I've seen people struggling with their identities and all sorts of things like that at school and in my social circles. It's really important to foster an environment where everyone feels accepted and appreciated for who they are."

Despite the negative comments from some Tauranga school principals, Hocking is hopeful those attitudes will change.

"Going forward Tauranga's becoming younger every day and I think that's going to really promote change to not only the attitudes towards pride but the way we go about representing it."

Hocking's speech about living as a young gay person in provincial New Zealand brought some of his audience to tears.

"It's great to have events like these where you can celebrate the things that make us different because really those are the things that make us beautiful."

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